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Badly Drawn Boy: London Royal Albert Hall

Another triumphant performance from Damon Gough...

Badly Drawn Boy: London Royal Albert Hall

In the hallowed home of classical concertos and Clapton's blues/snoozathons, a scruffy oik in a tea-cosy stands atop a grand piano: arms outstretched, looking for all the world like a wombling Freddie Mercury. "This is the proudest moment of my life," says Damon Gough, as St Anne's Bellringers finish a medley of Badly Drawn Boy 'hits' in their own unique style, his voice tremulously pitched with a mixture of fear and excitement. Then he leaps into the audience, shaking hands with the front row, thrusting a fag-holding fist into the air, simultaneously silly, charming, defiant.

Damon's every quirky gesture tonight seems like a knowing inversion of the stadium-quelling prowess of his idol, Bruce Springsteen. Walking through the stalls while playing a guitar solo, giving a photo of his daughter, Edie, to the audience to pass around, dedicating songs to his family: Damon's rambling oddity is as much a cornerstone to Badly Drawn Boy's music as the Boss's chest-beating bombast is to his.

Hearing these songs tonight, after the Badly-Drawn-fever of recent
months, is a revelation. The likes of 'Camping Near Water' (subtle emotional brinkmanship of which Damon's other hero, Guided By Voices' Robert Pollard, would be proud) and the haunting 'Distant Town' don't feel like Mercury Award-winning music, designed to sit happily, inoffensively on your coffee table. These songs, for all their undeniable melodicism, are born of disquiet, turbulence, and the struggle between Gough's idealism and stubborn, unyielding reality.

Hey, 'The Shining' might've shifted mucho Gap merchandise over Christmas, but hearing it after Damon himself has described it as an evocation of the first
time he met his girlfriend, Clare - an event he admits he can't remember - the music-box prettiness, the folksy whimsy, resonates with a melancholy of something lost, of the transience of a moment.

And tonight's just such a moment - albeit one stretched over three hours
and twenty minutes. A very special evening, a perfect celebration of all
Badly Drawn Boy is, and has achieved, and can achieve. And while you suspect Damon is just as much a bard for 'bedwetters and students' as the insipid Coldplay, tonight is more sublime a shared experience, more potent a rock'n'roll revelation than the brothers Gallagher have managed for a very long time.

It's 11.15pm, and Damon's aware that the venue are going to fine him heavily for overrunning the curfew - "I'll just write another song, and earn another million quid," he snaps with snotty magnificence (or is that a
magnificent snottiness?) - but he's not ready to leave just yet. He drags Clare onstage, and the two sing 'Epitaph' together, repeating "Please don't leave me" with tears in their eyes, and a lump in the audience's throat.

But there's a smile creeping across that stubborn, contrary, glorious
bastard's mug. This was a test, and the Badly Drawn Boy's more than passed, with humble homegrown magic from this "humble Northern man" (his words). Is there nothing Damon Gough can't do?

Stevie Chick

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